- 1911 – Turkey disarmed it’s citizens, and between 1915 – 1917 they murdered 1.5 million Armenians.
- 1929 – Russia disarmed it’s citizens, and between 1929 – 1953 they murdered 20 million Russians.
- 1935 – China disarmed it’s citizens, and between 1948 – 1952 they murdered 20 million Chinese.
- 1938 – Germany disarmed it’s citizens, and between 1939 – 1945 they murdered 16 million Jews.
- 1956 – Cambodia disarmed it’s citizens, and between 1975 – 1977 they murdered 1 million Educated people.
- 1964 – Guatamala disarmed it’s citizens, and between 1964 – 1981 they murdered 100,000 Mayan Indians.
- 1970 – Uganda disarmed it’s citizens, and between 1971 – 1979 they murdered 300,000 Christians.
Sunday, December 30, 2012
25 Pertinent Facts That The Mainstream
Media Wouldn't Discuss in 2012
During the Hitler dictatorship in Germany from the 1930's up to the mid-40's, there was a branch of the government called "The Ministry of Propaganda" that dished out a torrent of profane distortions about Jewish people, and later the outcome of the war itself. It was headed by a guy named Joseph Goebbels, who committed suicide at the end of the war rather than face capture, which would surely have been followed by a death sentence at the Nuremberg Trials. Today in America, we have a similar position within the White House staff that we call the Press Secretary, who can be seen regularly on the evening news. He serves the same function, he just has a far more innocuous title than "Propaganda Minister". This person's job -- and I have noticed regular personnel changes -- is to spoon-feed the media the information du joir of the day. Everybody knows that the media is told what to say and how to say it, and yet there a few protests about it. Today's message is my small contribution towards demanding some truth from our news sources. No more US Government propaganda please, we have all had a bellyfull already!
For decades, the mainstream media in the United States was accustomed to being able to tell the American people what to think and how to think it. Unfortunately for them, a whole lot of Americans are starting to break free from that paradigm and think for themselves. A Gallup survey from earlier this year found that 60 percent of all Americans “have little or no trust” in the mainstream media. More people than ever are realizing that the mainstream media is giving them a very distorted version of “the truth” and they are increasingly seeking out alternative sources of information. In the United States today, just six giant media corporations control the mainstream media. Those giant media corporations own television networks, cable channels, movie studios, radio stations, newspapers, magazines, publishing houses, music labels and even many prominent websites. But now thanks to the Internet the mainstream media no longer has a complete monopoly on the news. In recent years the “alternative media” has exploded in popularity. People want to hear about the things that the mainstream media doesn’t really want to talk about. They want to hear news that is not filtered by corporate bosses and government censors. They want “the truth” and they know that they are not getting it from the mainstream media. That's also one of the primary reasons why people are doing away with cable TV as I have. It's not just the money saved from unsubscribing to cable TV, it's the fact that everybody knows everything they are watching is a load of BS.
We are watching a media revolution happen, and many in the mainstream media are totally freaking out about it. In fact, some in the mainstream media have even begun publishing articles that mock the American people for not trusting them. For example, a recent CNN article entitled “Still ‘paranoid’ after all these years” portrayed Americans that don’t trust the media as paranoid conspiracy theorists that have left rationality behind. Ever have the feeling you’re being lied to by the news media, the authorities, the corporate world? That somebody — or something — is out to get you? You’re not alone. Welcome to 21st-century America. Look around. Trust is hitting historic lows. Just a third of Americans have a favorable view of the federal government, a decline of 31% since 2002, according to the Pew Center for People and the Press. Gallup has Congress’ approval rating is in the low 20s, after nearing single digits last summer. And the news media aren’t much better off. “Negative opinions about the performance of news organizations now equal or surpass all-time highs on nine of 12 core measures the Pew Research Center has been tracking since 1985,” a Pew report said this past summer. The article goes on to make it sound like it is very irrational not to trust the media, but in this day and age it is imperative that we all learn to think for ourselves. Blindly trusting someone else to do your thinking for you is very dangerous.
Anyone that does not acknowledge that the mainstream media has an agenda is not being honest with themselves. The mainstream media presents a view of the world that is very favorable to their big corporate owners and the big corporations that spend billions of dollars to advertise on their networks. The mainstream media is the mouthpiece of the establishment, and the worldview being pushed on the big networks is going to be consistent with the economic, financial, political and social goals of the establishment. The mainstream media loves to talk about things that fit with that agenda, and they don’t like to talk about things that suggest that there is something wrong with that agenda. The following are 25 facts that the mainstream media doesn’t really want to talk about right now:
#1 The mainstream media doesn’t really want to talk about the fact that gun sales are absolutely skyrocketing in the aftermath of the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
#2 They also don’t really want to talk about the fact that disarming the population has resulted in some of the most horrific massacres in human history.
#3 They don’t really want to talk about the fact that a bill allowing for the “indefinite military detention of US citizens on American soil” was passed by the U.S. Senate on Friday. Never mind that it's completely unconstitutional (see the Bill of Rights 4th amendment, among other places in the US Constitution).
#4 They don’t really want to talk about the fact that volcanoes all along the Ring of Fire are roaring to life. It seems like a new eruption is being reported every few days now. In fact, a red alert has just been issued for a massive volcano that sits along the border between Chile and Argentina.
#5 They don’t really want to talk about the fact that the use of genetically engineered seeds has caused on explosion of new “super weeds” that are incredibly difficult for farmers to kill.
#6 They don’t really want to talk about the fact that renowned trends forecaster Gerald Celente is predicting a “financial disaster” in 2013.
#7 They don’t really want to talk about the fact that it is easier to get into Harvard than it is to get a job as a flight attendant in America today.
#8 They don’t really want to talk about the fact that nearly 400 TSA employees have been fired for stealing from travelers since 2003. Our tax dollars hard at work. Nice.
#9 They don’t really want to talk about the fact that giant corporations such as Facebook are funneling gigantic amounts of money through offshore banking havens such as the Cayman Islands in an effort to avoid taxes.
#10 They don’t really want to talk about the fact that the U.S. dollar is in danger of losing its status as the primary reserve currency of the world. If this were to occur -- and it might -- financial calamity would surely follow.
#11 They don’t really want to talk about the fact that president Barack Obama has gone off to vacation in Hawaii while the rest of the nation hopes for a fiscal cliff deal to get done. Of course the mainstream media has to mention that he is on vacation because they always keep track of what the president does, when in actuality they should be doing a much better job keeping track of Wall Street speculators, their bankers, and all their filty lucre.
#12 They don’t really want to talk about the fact that there are government websites that give immigrants instructions about how to come over to our country illegally and then apply for SNAP benefits while formerly middle class American workers and their children starve for lack of work.
#13 They don’t really want to talk about the fact that the U.S. economy is losing millions of jobs to nations where it is legal to pay workers slave labor wages. Actually, this process is already started in the US as well, due to the fact that no one can live on a minimum wage paycheck. The mainstream media is totally married to the one world economic agenda that their corporate owners make so much money from, and so they say nothing as a steady stream of businesses and jobs continue to leave the country.
#14 They don’t really want to talk about the fact that the recent tax increase is causing large numbers of wealthy individuals to consider moving out of the state of California.
#15 They don’t really want to talk about the fact that hunger and poverty are absolutely exploding in the United States at the same time that they are telling us that the economy is “recovering”.
#16 They don’t really want to talk about the fact that North Korea now has a three-stage rocket with enough range to potentially hit the western United States.
#17 They don’t really want to talk about the fact that the United States Postal Service is losing 25 million dollars a day and is on the verge of financial collapse.
#18 They don’t really want to talk about the fact that our biggest oil supplier in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, still kills people for changing religions.
#19 They don’t really want to talk about the fact that political correctness is taking over America. The truth is that the media does not see any problem with that at all.
#20 They don’t really want to talk about the fact that nearly half a million employees of the federal government are making more than $100,000 a year.
#21 They don’t really want to talk about the fact that the birth rate in the United States fallen to an all-time low. The elite are actually absolutely thrilled that less babies are being born.
#22 They don’t really want to talk about the fact that violent crime in the United States increased by 18 percent in 2011 and that many major U.S. cities are seeing violent crime totally spiral out of control.
#23 They don’t really want to talk about the fact that Barack Obama received more than 99 percent of the vote in more than 100 precincts in Ohio on election day.
#24 They don’t really want to talk about the fact that during the first four years of the Obama administration, the U.S. national debt grew by about as much as it did from the time that George Washington took office to the time that George W. Bush took office.
#25 They don’t really want to talk about the fact that the Federal Reserve created the conditions for the last financial crisis and their mismanagement of the economy has now brought us to the verge of another horrible economic downturn. According to the mainstream media, the Federal Reserve is “above politics” and should not be criticized. Maybe the Federal Reserve should be nationalized so that printing and coining money returns to the auspices of the US Treasury like our Constitution specifies. All the US top-tier leadership needs to do is return to the original Constitution. It's the perfect way to wipe out the so-called national debt.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
Go Ahead! Hug That Tree and Give Thanks This Holiday
It's true. I hug people, pets, and trees. I make no bones about it. Call me a tree-hugger and I'll thank you for the compliment. If you would rather not hug me right now, it's OK, I understand.
I once tried to hug a tree in California that was alive during the time of Christ. I couldn't resist. I had to get next to such ancient life. To walk among that grove of redwoods was to walk in the hush of a cathedral, only one far more ancient, more holy, than any church. An ancient habitat still alive with flowing juices while busy sucking moisture from the ground and giving it back to the sky. One busy drawing energy down from the sun and giving it to the earth. I couldn't help looking up in the presence of such enormous trees. If God creates living things of such magnificence as these trees, how much more will he do for those who ask Him for his help?
Georgia isn't California, but we too have trees that are worthy of hugging. If you've ever hiked to the north Georgia mountains, there are ancient and gigantic pine, poplar and magnolia trees. Although much younger than California's redwoods, and only about half as tall at the most, I can't help but be amazed at the majesty of His Majesty and of that which he has created continually since before time began.
You too have hugged trees, admit it or not. When you were a child, you hugged lots of trees if you were a climber, or if you used trees as home base during games of hide-and-seek. Carrying a load of firewood is a way of tree hugging, if it's done with the right attitude. And when cutting down Christmas trees, even that could be described as a form of hugging. On the other hand, I've been known to wrap both arms around a scruffy old oak and utter thanks and blessings for what it's meant to the scenery and the air and the critters of this garden-spot of the universe. It's a way of giving thanks, and giving thanks is the key to happiness. Too many people see the holidays as a time to swap gifts around and so to see how much they can get. Far too many more are having the leanest and most depressing Christmas they have ever had, and that is a social injustice. Those of you who are familiar with my ministry's website already know how I feel about social injustice. For more about this visit my political activism page on this website.
It may be impossible to write anything truer than that about happiness, so let's say it again. Giving thanks is the key to happiness. It's a way of affirming life, of choosing hope over despair, faith over cynicism, if you'll pardon a detour. I promise to bring this round again, so bear with me.
Abraham Lincoln, a man who sometimes suffered what today is called clinical depression – a man who suffered personal tragedies and incredible stress, said, "Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." It's ever so true. To assess life by starting with your misfortunes is a sucker's game. There's no end to the misery you can catalog. One of the primary principles of Buddhism is that "All is Suffering." While recognizing there's some truth there, I don't embrace that philosophy. I know it must seem true to some, but I've been blessed in so many ways, it would be chintzy and dishonest to pretend otherwise. For the privilege of being alive, I start each day with an attitude of gratitude and a prayer of praise and thanks unto God. How lucky am I, Lord, to still be alive and to have survived all that I have been through? Fifty-seven years it's been, and I've took a nasty licking but my clock is still ticking!
I would say the odds of my still being here would otherwise be all but impossible. Life is such a luck of the draw as it is. It's like winning the lottery each year of our lives to have such an existence at all. That's how much luck is required. It took all the crazy detours of history to bring my parents together. If a million different ancestors over thousands or millions of years hadn't done exactly as they did most every day of their lives—and partook of the blessings and curses of life in just the right order, down to feeling romantic or lusty in the right moments, I wouldn't be here now. If a billion bits of space debris hadn't interacted in just the right ways to send a giant meteor crashing into the earth about 65 million years ago, eradicating the dinosaurs and making way for us mammals, none of us would be here. If the Big Bang ("Let there be light") had occurred with just a fraction of one percent more velocity, the planets and stars could not have formed. A fraction of a percent less velocity, and the whole universe would have collapsed back on itself. If seawater were a little saltier, if the earth weren't tilted on its axis just so, if the sun were a few miles farther off or closer in. If gravity were a few degrees stronger, we wouldn't exist. All of these so-called coincidences don't scratch the surface of things that had to go just right to make our lives possible. We are incredibly blessed to be alive and riding this silken beast called breathing – inhale, exhale – from the moment of birth until the instant of death.
And all those trees, exhaling oxygen and inhaling the poisonous carbon dioxide from our own breath, exist in a relationship to us that is at once symbolic of the fragile web of life and a crucial part of it. That fantastic web of life is a feature of this awesome universe we must love and adore. It is reason enough to thank God in this Christmas season, and every day of our lives. And reason enough to hug a tree.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
Is The American Dream A Christian Nightmare?
The American Dream has at its core an escape from the real world to build a personalized utopia, a custom-made fantasy island of sorts. Those of us who were taught to pursue this dream were told to live an isolated life for as long as possible. If we work hard enough to make enough money, we will be able to buy a house in the right neighborhood so our kids go to the right schools and buy enough stuff so as to please ourselves and shut out the world. But the house and our neighborhoods are not the only part of our island. Our cars give us the power to choose almost everything such as where our work, houses, churches, and friends can be. Our cars allow us to escape what we don't like about the neighborhoods we must visit.
If that is not enough, our TVs and our internet connections allow us filter out whatever else could intrude on us. And it is not that we need help to filter out what is unpleasant, the media does that for us already – testified to by those who are from other countries. Our media protects us from the real life negative stories about what our country and corporations do to others. In lieu of the unpleasant truth, our media reports only that which does not interfere with our consumption of their sponsors' products. And out of that small selection that is left from all of this filtering, we use the remote to choose shows based on how they make us feel.
The Christian sees this isolation by his secular fellow Americans as an affirmation of his own theological hiding. Many conservative Christians have embraced theologies that further sequester them from others in a self-imposed isolation. For example, I rarely see any articles or postings that deal with current events no matter how many people are suffering. Nor do I see much in the mainstream media or on Christian television that calls into question the extreme immorality of waging war. Rather, their articles and TV shows are concerned with fine theological points, evangelical efforts, how to run church services, and most particularly fund raising. But it is not just the articles that are printed in our literature that show how we distance ourselves, we use our gospel of individual salvation to shut out what is disturbing. We so reduce our standing before God to the current state of our inner self and beliefs that we become hyper vigilant over ourselves while ignoring the needs of others. As a result, we become agitated and even panicked when the concerns of the world ask for our time. And it isn't just the negativity of the news that disturbs us, it is its complexity. Since things are simple when we only have to care for ourselves, we prefer to pay as little attention as possible to others.
And when we do see and respond to the suffering of others, it is only to a chosen few fellow Christians or to those whom we cannot avoid. But such an approach to helping others goes against what the Bible teaches. Isaiah chapters 58 to 59 and Jeremiah 22:16 (“He defended the cause of the poor and the needy, and so all went well. 'Is that not what it means to know me', says the Lord?”) closely tie helping those in need with having seen the light. Likewise, Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats not only taught that those who helped those in need were the sheep who received eternal life, it also showed that those who neglected the needy were banished from paradise. He also demonstrated this latter principle in His parable of the rich man and Lazarus. In His parable of the rich man, who built extra barns to hold the excess of his harvest and told himself to eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow he could die – well, sure enough, he did. Last in my list is the book of Proverbs, containing such tasty nuggets of wisdom such as, “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (chapter 14, verse 31), and “Do not exploit the poor because they are poor, and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them” (chapter 22, verses 22-23).
But perhaps the most pathetic way that Christians remove themselves from the world is by blindly submitting to authority. It is not that Christians are not called to submit to those in authority, quite the contrary. But many of today's Christians do so as a way of shielding themselves from the risks that come with confronting evil rather than from punishment. Thus, submission to authority is sometimes practiced not in order to love God and others, but to secure for oneself the kind of world that is most tolerable if not lovable. And so when evil prevails in either the private or public sector, this legitimate command to submit to the authorities is used to hide oneself, as Jonah tried to do, from the mandate to preach the Gospel. But not only are we negligent when we fail to confront those who abuse their power, we become complicit in their evil ways. And we do so in order to ride in on the coattails of evil and power rather than risk any reprisal for challenging it.
Martin Luther King faced this very dilemma when he stood up to the legal racism and hatred that was rampant in the South. He wanted to honor and follow the commandment in Romans 13 that told him to submit to the authorities. At the same time, he knew that many authorities were enforcing unjust laws and allowing abuse and terrorism. He could have submitted and just gone along with the status quo and he would have avoided making himself a target. But that would be the coward's way out! For if he was quiet, then others would continue to suffer horribly. So King concluded that he could meet both responsibilities by using respectful dissent and peaceful protest. When arrested, he made no effort to resist. He did not challenge authority of the police; but he did challenge the validity of unjust laws and the society that enjoyed them.
Finally, there is still an even greater escape from our responsibilities to the world that many Christians use and I am not referring to belief in the Rapture. That flight consists of relying solely on prayer to confront the sins of the status quo. It isn't that prayer should be forsaken. But prayer without the actions can be dead, especially when we pass over opportunities to speak out. What makes the last two reasons for not speaking out most despicable is that when using them, we use a veneer of righteousness and concern to cover our fear and apathy. While neglecting the suffering of others, we say to them that we care but our lack of actions show that it is only for ourselves. Some Christians will protest by pointing to individual acts of helping those in need or to mission trips taken to help those in need. But while such actions should be passionately embraced, they cannot excuse us from failing to defend those who are being oppressed. The apostle Paul wrote, “Faith without works is dead”, and it's even more true today than when those words were written 2,000 years ago. Private acts of charity must be done in conjunction with preaching the Gospel to power. I aspire to the same by putting up this website.
There is a Biblical reason why the American Dream is so desirable to Christians. It is because we see the American Dream as Paradise restored and thus our Christian duty to enjoy. In fact, some think that the purpose of God's Word is to make Paradise accessible again. Such Christians argue that basing one's life on God's Word is like following the right blueprints when constructing a building, and they have a point. The more we follow God's Word, the more we can avoid the hazards of sin. But the big question becomes did God give us His word to return us to the Garden or to help us through the Wilderness? But before answering that question, we must understand why would Jesus commanded us to collect our treasures in heaven rather than on earth and why the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us we to look for a home to come rather than a home here.
To believe that God's Word tells us how to regain Paradise, even in part, is to believe a lie. The real attraction to the American Dream isn't the opportunity to restore what was lost but to worship what can be found – mammon. The American Dream is a monasticism with benefits. Its preachers assure us that we can be righteously selfish. The “prosperity gospel” is taught in churches like a canned sales pitch, and is gleefully and mistakenly received as truth by the gullible. It allows us to flee from what is unpleasant and distasteful in the world while enjoying its corruptible fruit. This makes the American Dream a trap for the Christian. For when we try to take what we want, we become deaf and blind to both the world God wants us to share His love with as well as our own spiritual condition.
My conclusion, then, is to reject materialism and the pursuit of economic gain! Jesus said, “One cannot serve two masters. He/she will either love one and despise the other, or cling to one while rejecting the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon (money)”. Choose today whom or what you will serve in life. You can either pursue wealth and material goods, or you can pursue a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and all that goes with it. One cannot serve them both, since from the vantage point of the believer they are in opposite directions from each other. Our wealth and possessions die with us or are willed to others after we are gone, but Jesus Christ lives today, tomorrow, and forever! It is He and he alone that is the correct choice for us to make. Right now would be a perfectly good time to do this (for those who haven't already done so). Simply pray within yourself to Jesus and ask Him to take charge of your life. It doesn't matter how, just do it. He always does a great job anyway, so there is no point in resisting him. Ask him now, he is waiting eagerly for you.
Sunday, December 9, 2012
Why I Believe in God
I would like to share with you the reasons why I believe in God. I understand such a conversation may be an automatic turnoff to those of you who do not believe in a higher power, but I assure you there's a nugget of truth and timeless wisdom in this story for everyone. After all, when you get right down to it, we all have to believe in something, whether consciously or not.
It all started one day as I was about to return home on MARTA, the public transit system for metro Atlanta where I live. Now maybe I was tired or maybe I was so hungry I couldn't think clearly, but I accidentally got on the northbound train when I intended to go south. It wasn't until about 10 minutes later that I realized my mistake and disembarked at the very next stop. But once I got my bearings I thought for a moment that I saw God.
OK, it wasn't literally God. It was one of His creations, a young man in his twenties, asking for money for something to eat. I told him I carried no cash, but I could get him some food if that's what he truly needed. He spoke to me in soft tones that were barely audible. He was apparently ashamed for having to beg. I told him not to worry, I would be back in 5 minutes. I went into a nearby Burger King that was in easy walking distance from where I was and got him a “whopper”, some fries and a drink, but by the time I came back out with the food he was gone. Only God knows where. So I did the only thing I could at that point. I took the food home, warmed it up and ate it. So much for good deeds for today. Like Mighty Casey at the bat that day in Mudville, I had struck out.
Now to some, running into this homeless person is a coincidence at best, or a nuisance at worst. But I chose to see something else. I chose to see God. Not in person, mind you, but within the hearts and minds of others. I don't see God only in the good things in life, I see Him in the bad things too. Like homeless people, not to imply that homeless people are bad, or like the affluent, or anywhere in between. I see God in triumph and defeat, in wealth or in poverty, in war or in peace, and in life or in death. “The earth is the Lord's”, king David once wrote, “and everything in it”. It also says in the book of Genesis that mankind was created in God's “image and likeness”. So we belong not to ourselves but to God.
One of the biggest problems with organized religion is the claim of having definitive answers about an infinite being. But true faith does not require us to have all of the answers. Only God knows all that. Faith, as it relates to spirituality, isn't knowing something others don't know – we call that a secret – but rather belief in something that can't be empirically proven or disproved. In other words, to truly be a person of faith one must accept the fact that God exists. If there was visible evidence of God's existence, we wouldn't need faith. And on the flip side, atheists cannot prove without a shadow of a doubt there is no God.
So while I can't prove God intended for me to run into that homeless man on the street that day, the skeptic cannot prove that some form of intelligence – God, if you will – did not. This is what I meant when I said we all believe in something. When you get right down to it, everyone is walking in faith, it's just not faith in the same thing. Unless you are one of the multitudes of people whose faith has been shattered by the loss of your jobs, your homes and cars, your savings, and even whole families that are breaking up due to financial hardship. Still others are walking with the wrong kind of faith, such as their faith in material goods and financial wealth as they surround themselves with as many friends as money can buy. The most dangerous are those who carry themselves about in the mistaken belief that power, whether political, economic or by brute force, is the ultimate achievement in and of itself. Such power over others for any reason is an illusion because it is never permanent. Sooner or later, realizing the same, those under power's thumb will inevitably become very tired of being ruled over with an iron fist and throw off the chains of oppression. It has happened over and over again throughout history, including the American Revolution.
Lots of people have voiced a concern, expressed a doubt or raised a question about this issue all over the world, only to be told by their family, church, friends or tribe: “We don't discuss those things here”, or, "I believe the discussion itself is divine." This doesn't include certain religious denominations who teach that their way is the only way because their message is the only truthful message. This is completely contrary to Scripture, which says that only those who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ can be saved from judgment. Religion is secondary, almost like an afterthought, when it comes to faith in Jesus. Besides, if God doesn't exist then why are so many people so uncomfortable talking about Him?
So where is God in all this? He was in the eyes of the homeless man I tried to help. He is in the eyes of your neighbor, your friends, your family, your co-workers, and those you worship with at church – or not, if that's what you prefer. God pleads for the homeless, begs for the hungry, cries out for the sick and the mentally ill, and He is interceding for the unemployed, for single parents working multiple part-time jobs, and for those in life who have simply lost their way. God didn't just make some people, He made all of us “in his image and likeness”. So God is asking all of us, “What are you going to do for all of my sons and daughters who are hurting or in want, who need my Peace and my Healing? Look closely at the homeless, the unemployed, the ex-convict, the forgotten and rejected sons and daughters of mine and you'll see a reflection of Me”. If anyone is doubtful about the point I am making, that's okay. To admit doubt removes the arrogance of certainty prevalent in so many evangelical Christians and atheists alike and replaces it with the humility -- and even peace -- that comes with not knowing the answers. I do not find the mystery to represent the absence of God but rather his presence. If we could figure God out, he wouldn't be that impressive.
If the promise of heaven or the threat of hell is the only reason you can find to seek His face, you are missing the point. We were all put here on this earth to live our lives one of two ways; we live our lives either serving others or serving ourselves. It's all up to us. Maybe we should examine ourselves to see which of the two is the case. Maybe it was just a coincidence that I got turned around going to a place I regularly visit, running into someone I never met, and offering my hand to assist someone at a time when so many others turned theirs away. Maybe. But I chose to believe it was something else. I believe God sends us opportunities to serve others just to see what we will do or how we will react. That says a lot about somebody right there. For it is within the desire to serve that my faith in God is nourished.
Sunday, December 2, 2012
Stop Sugarcoating the Bible!
The Bible is a gritty book. Very raw. Very real. It deals with people just like us, just as needy and screwed up as we are, encountering a God who would rather die than spend eternity without us. Yet despite that, it seems like Christians are uncomfortable with how earthy the Bible really is. They feel the need to sanitize God when we should be looking at ourselves instead.
For example, look in any modern translation of Isaiah 64:6, and you’ll find that, to a holy God, even our most righteous acts are like “filthy rags.” The original language doesn’t say “filthy rags”; it says “menstrual rags.” But that sounds a little too crass, so let’s just call them filthy instead. And let’s not talk so much about Jesus being naked on the cross, and let’s pretend Paul said that he considered his good deeds “a pile of garbage” in Philippians 3:8 rather than a pile of crap, as the Greek would more accurately be translated.
And let’s definitely not mention the ten commandments in the Old Testament. That might be unpopular. Never mind that between the books of Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy there are a total of 630 of them. That could expose people as being the sinners that we all truly are. God forbid!
God’s message was not meant to be run through some arbitrary, holier-than-thou politeness filter. God couldn't care less about political correctness, which is something I work at emulating every single day. He intended the Bible to speak to people where they’re at, caught up in the stark reality of life on a fractured and dying planet.
There are dozens of Psalms that are complaints and heart-wrenching cries of despair to God, not holy-sounding, reverently worded soliloquies. Take Psalm 77:1-3: “I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help” (New Living Translation).
And rather than shy away from difficult and painful topics, the Old Testament includes vivid descriptions of murder, cannibalism, witchcraft, dismemberment, torture, rape, idolatry, erotic sex and animal sacrifice. According to St. Paul, those stories were written as examples and warnings for us, as he wrote: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man. And God is faithful, he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it.”(1 Corinthians 10:11-13, NIV). So obviously they were meant to be retold without editing out all the things we don’t consider nice or agreeable.
I believe that Scripture includes such graphic material to show how far we, as a race, have fallen and how far God was willing to come to rescue us from ourselves. God is much more interested in honesty than piety, and in our Spirituality rather than in how religious we are. And that’s what He gives us throughout Scripture, telling the stories of people who struggled with the same issues, questions and temptations we face today.
Peter struggled with doubt and with a bad temper, and we hear all about it. Elijah dealt with depression; Naomi raged with bitterness against God; Hannah struggled for years under the burden of her unanswered prayers. David had an affair and then arranged to have his lover’s husband killed. Noah was a drunk, Abraham a liar, Moses a murderer. Job came to a place where he found it necessary to make a covenant with his eyes not to lust after young girls (Job 31:1). Jesus said, “I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance”. It's all a matter of priorities. “I desire mercy”, Jesus said, “not sacrifice”. Don't boast to God about how often you attend church, or how much you “tithe” each week. Never mind your rituals, Jesus was saying. Tell me about how much you did for others whether they deserved it or not. I want to know how well you treated others. That's all that matters in the end.
It’s easy to make “Bible heroes” (as Protestants might say) or “saints” (as Catholics might refer to them) out to be bigger than life, immune from the temptations that everyone faces. I find it encouraging that Jesus never came across as being pious or condescending. In fact, he was never accused of being too religious; instead he partied so much that he was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton because he was perceived as associating with “sinners” (Matthew 11:19). His first miracle was changing water into wine, and it is documented in all four gospels that wine was served and consumed at the Last Supper. So, people who insist that one must be a teetotaler to go to heaven when they die simply don't know what they are talking about.
Jesus never said, “The Kingdom of God is like a church service that goes on and on forever and never ends.” Our church services can't hold a candle to what heaven will be like. He said the kingdom was like a homecoming celebration, a wedding, a party, a feast to which all are invited. This idea was too radical for the religious leaders of his day, and in some cases it still is. They were more concerned about etiquette, manners, traditions and religious rituals than about partying with Jesus. And that’s why they missed out. That’s why we miss out.
According to Jesus, the truly spiritual life is one marked by freedom rather than compulsion (“So if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed” John 8:36), and by love rather than ritual (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these. 'Well said, teacher' the man replied. 'You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but Him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices'”.Mark 12:30-33, NIV). Another hallmark of a truly Spiritual life is one focused on peace rather than guilt (“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27, NIV). Jesus saves us from the dry, dusty duties of religion and frees us to cut loose and celebrate.
I don’t believe we’ll ever recognize our need for the light until we’ve seen the depth of the darkness. So God wasn’t afraid to get down and dirty with us about life and temptation and forgiveness. And grace. Only when the Bible seems relevant to us (which it is), only when the characters seem real to us (which they were), only then will the message of redemption become personal for us (which it was always meant to be).
We don’t need to edit God. We need to let him be the author of our new lives and the construction superintendent for our growing and expanding faith. The time is getting short, people. It's time for all of us to lead more Spiritual lives. The stakes are where we will spend eternity, and there is no more serious subject than that.